Review: 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' (2021) Dir. Destin Daniel Cretton
The 25th film in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, and part of Phase 4 in their timeline, welcomes the franchise's first Asian director and a predominantly Asian cast...
Shaun (Liu) and best friend Katy (Awkwafina) live and work in San Francisco in rather dead-end jobs, but enjoy living for the now. Little does Shaun know that his destiny surrounding the mystical Ten Rings clan is coming for him.
Attacked for his families secrets, Shaun must reveal his true identity to Katy to help protect them; he is really Shang-Chi, son of immortal Ten Rings leader Xu Wenwu (Leung) and assassin in training. Wenwu is seeking to open the Ta Lo dimension to fuel his Ten Rings clan.
If the dimension is opened, it could spell certain doom for Earth, and so Shang-Chi must unite with Katy and his estranged sister, Xu Xialing (Zhang), embrace his years of training and stop Wenwu to prevent the Ten Rings from becoming an unstoppable force to be reckoned with...
After a brief journey through 1000 years of history, influenced by the power of ten mystical rings worn by Tony Leung Chiu-wai's Xu Wenwu, and a balletic forest martial arts display by Leung and Fala Chen that channels Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this is clearly a different style of Marvel adventure than what we are used to. And for the better; keeping things fresh and different is key for a franchise such as the MCU to survive.
Simu Liu has the right mix of confidence, wit, vulnerability and action know-how to be a likeable and engaging lead for the first Asian driven MCU entry. Liu is brilliant in his action sequences as the mighty Shang-Chi (aka "Shaun") who can't escape his destiny when it comes knocking. Liu's martial arts dexterity and energy lends so much to the action sequences, and he doesn't come across as an invulnerable superhero to what we are used to.
Supported by comic relief in the form as Awkwafina as friend Katy (whose comedy is like marmite with her smart-ass quips and jokes) and the strong-willed Meng'er Zhang as sister Xu Xialing, there is a wonderful roster of Asian talent who deserve to be front and centre of a MCU film.
Shang-Chi is more ordinary and humane than most MCU heroes, trained by family in the ways of combat and having a personality moulded by both positive and negative upbringing.
Other faces include the inimitable Michelle Yeoh, Ronny Chieng and Benedict Wong in a cheeky cameo. Spearheaded by director Destin Daniel Cretton, himself of Asian heritage, the film not only showcases Asian culture, but also takes pride in the talent in front of and behind the camera that have decades of experience to come before a global audience.
Leung carries his charisma and simmering menace as Shang-Chi's father and keeper of the Ten Rings that he has wielded for generations, commanding armies to carry out his bidding in the quest for eternal power but having a much more emotive moral for what he is doing. He's a great actor to have opposite Liu and is a more grounded, if not forgetful, villain for Phase 4.
It's also nice to see the return of Sir Ben Kingsley reprising his role from Iron Man 3 when the Ten Rings were first mentioned, having much more fun this time around and lending more to the plot.
The action and martial arts choreography is brought to life by the late stunt coordinator Brad Allan, who sadly died in August 2020 with Shang-Chi one of his final two films worked on. Brad and the Jackie Chan Stunt Team (formed in 1983) help bring a huge sense of practical, powerful scale to the fighting, something that shouldn't be lost in a franchise built around CGI escapism. From a close-quarters bus battle that harkens back to the glory days of Jackie Chan himself, to a skyscraper scaffold battle and the final confrontation, the CGI works to enhance the atmosphere, not detract from the martial arts that is thrilling to watch.
It's good we also get to see so much of the landscape and world built around the action, with each hit and jump and fall landing perfectly. The scenery and combat is framed beautifully, especially during the final act that doesn't go full-on destructive showdown, but rather full-on Chinese myth and magic.
There IS a lot of CGI escapism in this, more-so during the fantastical second half when the lore of the Ten Rings comes to light, but there is still a great amount of practical sets, props, locations and costumes that retain the fingerprint of Asian myths and culture. The CGI works to enhance action and build worlds, as it should, and never really feels it detracts from the fantastical story telling of this world of mighty heroes and villains.
Marvel have their stamp over this, with more nods and winks to the greater timeline of films, but it works so much more thanks to the refreshing change of pace, gentle story telling and immersion in Eastern culture.
And of course, stay for the post-credits.
The exploration of the Ten Rings and the family it is built around is the perfect origin story for Shang-Chi. With the mixed martial arts action a real treat for the MCU, this has paved an exciting path for where the story could go next.
'Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings' is a Marvel Studios production.